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India’s Need for a Credible Expeditionary and Power Projection Capability

What better time to pen this article on India’s need for a credible Expeditionary and Power Projection Capability than the early part of the month of November as it was 26 years ago on 03 November 1988 that OPERATION CACTUS was launched by the Indian Armed Forces in response to a request from the President of Maldives, to defeat the coup in the island nation forming part of India’s immediate neighbourhood. The President of Maldives had made similar requests to the USA and UK, however, the geographies of their bases in the Indian Ocean Region precluded an effective and a speedy response to defeat the coup staged by inimical forces. The operation was successfully conducted in 24 hours by Indian Army’s parachute battalion airlifted in transport aircrafts of the Indian Air Force. OPERATION CACTUS which was an expeditionary operation was successful due to the speed in mounting of operation, high quality of leadership, initiative at tactical level and exploitation of fleeting opportunities by establishing of air head at Hulele, beach head at Male and interception of get away rebel ship by the Indian Navy.

India is an acknowledged regional power and an emerging major global power. Thus, besides having to shoulder responsibilities and obligations in keeping with her status in the region and the comity of nations, she is also faced with certain challenges. These challenges primarily concern safeguarding and furtherance of India’s national interests in her legitimate sphere of influence and area of interest encompassing the arc stretching from East Coast of Africa through West Asia, CAR, South Asia, Malacca Straits, SE Asia, South and East China Seas and East Pacific Ocean. The challenges to India not only encompass concerns/issues in terms of protecting territory but cover a much broader canvas like shaping to its advantage the environment in the country’s legitimate sphere of influence/area of interest, exercising international political leverage, having barging power and ensuring self respect. The national interests of India in view of her strong and growing economy as also her emergence as an important player in the comity of nations have to be global in nature and not get restricted to being just territorial. The IOR, South and East China Seas are areas of concern having important seaborne global trade routes. There is need to ensure stability, security of SLOCs and maintain order at sea. Also, India needs to maintain balance of power vis-à-vis China in the Asia-Pacific Region. Further, India in keeping with her regional status has the obligation to be ever prepared for providing humanitarian assistance (HA) and disaster relief (DR) to the affected regions and nations on the lines like it was done during the Tsunami in 2004.

The term Expeditionary implies a temporary duration with intention to withdraw after mission accomplishment and in essence it is a military operation conducted by the Armed Forces to accomplish a specific objective in a foreign country. Such an operation could be on the low violence end of a continuum with the objective being  HA/DR or at the most violent end be tasked to neutralise an adversary Govt by defeating or destruction of its Armed Forces in combat. The defining characteristic of expeditionary operations is the projection of force into a foreign setting or scenario. Expeditionary capability for war as well as operations other than war implies the ability of a nation to apply all components of military power ie deterrence, dissuasion, strategic fire power, combat potential/resources, informational, stabilisation capability and logistics to achieve political ends. Power Projection is the ability of a nation to apply all or some of its elements of national power ie political, economic, diplomacy, informational or military to rapidly and effectively deploy/sustain forces to respond to crises, contribute to deterrence and enhance regional stability. Credible power projection rests, among other factors, on the nation’s ability to rapidly deploy forces to perform missions spanning continuum of military operations. Force Projection therefore is the capability to mobilise, deploy and sustain the employed force. Force projection thus specifically is the military element of power projection.

The emerging challenges for India mandate expanding her sphere to protect and further her strategic interests in the IOR, strategic neighbourhood and beyond. One of the key strategic principles of national security and military strategy is crises prevention and response through power projection. To safeguard national interests, a nation has to have a capability for crises prevention. Peace time deterrence is one of the most important roles of the Armed Forces in shaping the international environment. A credible expeditionary capability and the POLITICAL WILL to use it against a potential adversary are critical to effective deterrence. A response to a crises need not always be a military one as invariably there will be a diplomatic prelude before application of military power. In military terms one could view crises response in terms of FORCE INTERVENTION or FORCE INTERPOSITION. Force Intervention would imply deployment and application of Armed Forces to influence events. On the other hand, Force Interposition would mean positioning of Armed Forces during a crisis to act as a shield to protect its citizens and friendly citizens from violence or harm generated by the conflict environment.

Keeping in view the prevalent global and regional situations, all major powers and developed nations are striving to achieve their objectives and safeguarding their interests and it is thus axiomatic that India too pursues her national interests on her own. Further, it is worth noting that almost all major powers to include USA, UK, France, Germany, Russia, though not facing any threat of aggression, have developed expeditionary capabilities primarily to safeguard and promote their national interests. Their Armed Forces are expeditionary in nature. In India’s case too it is an imperative and a dire necessity to develop a credible and a viable expeditionary capability for power projection for primarily safeguarding national interests; ensuring energy security; meeting rising aspirations as a regional power and an emerging global power to play her role of a dominant power in IOR, Asia-Pacific Region and in shaping of the international environment; supplement/complement diplomatic and political initiatives; enhance role of military diplomacy as a tool for national interests; crises prevention through effective deterrence/dissuasion; implementation of coercive policy during a crises situation in the immediate neighbourhood;  protecting interests of a large and an ever increasing Indian diaspora; HA/DR; participation under the UN mandate in international peace missions to restore adverse situation in a country of strategic interest to India; capture/recapture of politically sensitive objectives, strategic offshore assets and/or an island or group of island territories.

India’s experience in force projection has been in the 1980s by way of IPKF operations against LTTE (OPERATION PAWAN) in Sri Lanka from October 1987-March 1990 and defeating of coup staged by a foreign mercenary group in Maldives (OPERATION CACTUS) 03-04 November 1988. A number of valuable lessons from these force projection experiences emerged at the strategic, operational and tactical levels, as also, at the doctrinal and conceptual levels. The Falklands War of 1982 by far is the best example available. of a nation’s strong will and resolve to restore its sovereignty over far flung island territories by way of demonstrating a credible power projection capability by means of an expeditionary force over a distance of 12,800 Km by sea. The Falkland Islands occupy a strategically dominant position in the proximity of Antarctica and across the Drake passage which controls access from Pacific to the Atlantic – a vital link. Britain had been in possession of Falkland Islands since1823 and the war was triggered by the occupation of these islands by Argentina on 02 April 1982 and ended with the British victory on 14 June 1982 with the surrender of Argentine forces. It will not be wrong to call the Falklands War as a bible for conduct of expeditionary operations for power projection and demonstration of a strong political will. The conduct and lessons of Falklands War are most relevant to India and need to be taken note of at both political and military levels so as to respond in case some inimical power does a Falkland on the strategically important and sensitive Andaman & Nicobar Group of India’s far flung island territories located 700 Nm from the mainland in the IOR astride the Malacca Straits.

India since the 1980s decade has come a long way and has been able to develop a viable, though modest expeditionary operations capability for power projection in which the Amphibious Operations capability forms an important component. The recent induction in the Indian Navy of a newly refurbished 44,500 ton Kiev Class aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya has provided the much needed strategic dimension and the lethal punch to India’s existing Amphibious capability for power projection. India needs a suitably structured force for power projection which should be a force of decision with decisive capabilities to compel/deter adversaries/inimical forces and reassure/instil confidence in friendly foreign countries. This will require the force to be organised for full spectrum of operational environment including Out of Area Contingency tasks and with capabilities for multiple modes of transportation and insertion. The force should be capable of rapid deployment, generate sufficient combat power to establish control in any environment and sustain the mission for as long as required. Thus the force should be structured as a joint rapid reaction force and should conduct joint training and rehearse its role regularly.

Force projection per se is not a new phenomenon, it is in fact a derivative and a natural outcome of the human mind. The 21st Century as can be visualised will be the Asian Century with China and India emerging as major powers. The global powers have evinced great interest in Asia and which has generated its attended challenges in the region. India emerging as a major power needs to be alive to its security concerns. There is thus an impending need and it is an imperative for India to develop a credible force projection capability for power projection.

Major General Rajesh Singh is a former General Officer Commanding of 54 Infantry Division and was intimately associated with force projection aspects. Views expressed are personal.

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Rajesh Singh
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